I’ll be honest; the thought of Vikings, Knights, and Samurai facing off in combat for dominance of the world never really crossed my mind before, but ever since For Honor’s reveal I’ve been pretty excited to take part in some grand multiplayer showdowns. Whilst we’ve seen similar concepts explored in titles such as ‘Deadliest Warrior’ in the past, no developer has ever embraced it on such an epic scale as much as Ubisoft have, which has led to a hell of a lot of hype for the game. Now For Honor has finally released we can find out if it lives up to all the buzz it’s received, or if it’s another over-hyped title that doesn’t deserve its place in gaming Valhalla.
For Honor’s key feature is the ‘Art of Battle’ – a fighting system which blends the sword fighting of ‘Dark Souls’ and the combat mechanics of ‘Street Fighter’, with a little bit of ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ thrown in for good measure. When in-combat you take on one of three stances, each of which is assigned to the right stick. Flick it to the left for one stance, up for another, and to the right for the last. When you attack you hit out in the direction of your stance, whilst defending works in the same way too with the block button being used to defend any strikes from that position. It means you have to be fully aware of what your enemy is doing as well as being quick enough to beat them to the punch; if you see a player coming to attack you with a specific stance, you’ll want to match it and defend as soon as possible. Alternatively, knowing they’re coming at you in a specific way might also encourage you to attack them using a different stance before they get the chance to hit you or defend themselves. The flexibility of the ‘Art of Battle’ system allows you to fight how you want, be that offensively throwing out attacks from all directions or alternatively playing it defensively and picking your moments to strike on the counter-attack. There are other mechanics to take advantage of too such as attacks that break an opponent’s defence with a smash, the ability to throw your opponents around the battlefield, as well as a dodge roll to quickly get out of trouble. I’m simplifying it here, but there’s a whole lot of depth to the system that offers the freedom to fight how you want whilst still remaining accessible enough for anyone to pick up and play.
In the way that the ‘Arkham’ games mastered the art of brutal hand-to-hand combat, For Honor has absolutely nailed sword fighting. Games are often guilty of making it all about slicing and dicing your way to success, but here you have to wait for your moment to strike; it’s as much about defending and waiting as it is about trying to take your opponent’s life. You have to watch each and every movement of your opponent and work out where and when to attack. It’s almost like a stand off in a Western, with whoever attacks at the right time proving the victor. With so many different ways to attack though, each battle is unpredictable and utterly brilliant. I love it – not since ‘Dark Souls’ have I been so captivated by a game’s combat mechanics.
Before you hit For Honor’s multiplayer you’ll be asked what faction you want to fight for, choosing between the Knights, Vikings, and Samurai (I chose the Vikings because… well… they’re Vikings). The faction you choose plays a big role in the underlying mini-game behind the whole of For Honor’s multiplayer – ‘The Faction War’. Each multiplayer match you succeed in rewards you with ‘war assets’ for ‘The Faction War’, in turn allowing you to contribute to a battle that’s going on behind the scenes across a huge map of the land that highlights each faction’s control. It’s too early to say how it will play out (each season lasts ten weeks and the game hasn’t been out for a week yet) but it offers an extra dimension to the game that can be played outside of the traditional battlefield. Whether or not it’ll sustain its enjoyment for the long-term I don’t know; I found outside of trying it out to see how it worked, I wasn’t too interested in really sticking with it. It’s certainly interesting though and players passionate about their factions will spend a lot of time spreading out their ‘war assets’ for the cause.
Multiplayer is spread across five modes: ‘Dominion’, ‘Brawl’, ‘Duel’, ‘Skirmish’, and ‘Elimination’. Each of these multiplayer modes works in different ways and offers varying group sizes. Take ‘Duel’ and ‘Brawl’ for example: they both play out in exactly the same way with a straight forward battle to the death, but ‘Duel’ is one on one and ‘Brawl’ is two on two. I actually have a hell of a lot of fun with ‘Duel’ and it has quickly established itself as my favourite game mode, though as I’ve become more confident in my fighting ability I’ve took a real liking to ‘Brawl’ too. ‘Brawl’ offers some incredibly exciting showdowns; two on two is a tense affair where you’re as worried for your partner as you are for yourself, with the consequences of one of you dying being a handicap battle where the odds are mightily against you.
This is where one of For Honor’s flaws comes into play – the ‘Art of Battle’ system feels like it was designed for one on one combat, so having to deal with two opponents at the same time could be a bit of a nightmare. It’s not impossible to take on more than one opponent at once and there were occasions where I came out on top, but they were few and far between. It plays out realistically though so it’s not something that can be held against the game, but it does bring the merit of game modes like ‘Brawl’ into question when you consider that it’s almost always going to end up in a two against one situation at some point. It’s exciting to play and I have a lot of fun with it, but it’s also probably the most unfair of the game modes. It’s also worth mentioning that For Honor includes ‘friendly fire’ too, so throwing attacks around carefree can see a teammate fall by your blade in this mode – it can be comical, but don’t expect too many laughs when it ends in a two on one situation because of your incompetency with a sword.
‘Duels’ and ‘Brawls’ made the game feel a lot more like a traditional fighter as opposed to just another multiplayer action game. For Honor’s ‘Art of Battle’ system shares so many similarities with the likes of ‘Street Fighter’ or ‘Tekken’; the light and heavy attacks, the directions to hit, blocking, throws… the similarities are endless, whilst actually utilising these mechanics against other players only solidifies the thought. Don’t get me wrong, it’s never going to feel like a fighter in the purest sense, but it certainly shows that For Honor has a lot more depth than what might be perceived from simply looking at it.
The remaining game modes focus on a four on four style of play, with each different mode offering the kind of gameplay we’ve seen in other multiplayer focused titles. ‘Dominion’ sees you capturing zones to earn points, ‘Skirmish’ sees you trying to earn a specified number of points by eliminating the players from other teams, whilst ‘Elimination’ is a simple four on four death match with no respawns. ‘Dominion’ and ‘Skirmish’ include AI combatants too, adding a grander sense of scale to the battles that take place.
I thought I’d have the most fun with the feeling of risk that ‘Elimination’ offers with its lack of respawns (especially after all the fun I had with ‘Warzone’ in the original ‘Gears of War’), but players are actually able to revive their teammates so falling on the battlefield doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the end. It often took away from the sense of wariness with everything you do; I knew I could be revived and with such large maps to play across it was easy for teammates to revive me without the risk of being attacked. It kept me wanting to keep an eye on opponents I’ve slain as opposed to actively pursuing a new one, which isn’t too fun when all you want to do is get right back into the action. It works both ways, but I’d have preferred a more traditional format with no option of being revived.
There’s a decent amount of variety between all of the game modes to keep you entertained for quite some time, with some modes even including power-ups along with the plethora of AI enemies you have to watch out for. I was impressed with how different each mode felt and how they all offered a completely different experience – if I wanted something a bit epic that actually felt like a grand battle I’d take part in a ‘Skirmish’, whilst if I fancied something on a smaller scale whilst playing alone I’d take on some ‘Duels’. For Honor really caters to just about anyone; I’ve heard from some players that they’re starting to get a little bored of playing through the multiplayer modes, but I constantly find it a tense and enthralling experience.
You’ll unlock loot in the online modes that allow you to customise your characters in different ways, not just aesthetically but with their stats too. You’ll also accumulate Steel that can be used as a currency to purchase extras in-game – not all classes are unlocked from the get go which is a bit of a shame, but it won’t take you too long before you have everyone open to use. Collecting all of the cosmetic items will take a while, offering keen completionists a ton of hours of gameplay before they have a complete wardrobe in-game. I know this won’t appeal to everyone (typically myself included), but it was exciting to see what spoils I’d receive after each victory.
One issue I had with some of the multiplayer modes was that it could be a pain to make out the HUD indicator for your opponent’s stance on the busier battlefields; there’s a massive dependence on being able to see your opponent’s position and it was often difficult to make it out when they were surrounded by multiple players or by AI combatants. It’s not an issue on the smaller scaled multiplayer modes, but when you’re up against what are essentially armies it could leave you at risk. It’s not ALWAYS the case, but when it did happen it could be frustrating.
For Honor offers a full-blown campaign to play alongside its multiplayer components, though I couldn’t help but to find it felt more like a glorified tutorial as opposed to an epic showdown between three warring factions. The game doesn’t actually do much to deviate from this either given that each of the eighteen missions on offer are constantly trying to teach you how to play – ignoring the fact that you would’ve easily put eight hours into the game by the time you get to the final mission, it’ll still bring up messages telling you how to use the game mechanics you’ve used time and time again already throughout each mission.
The tutorial-based nature of the campaign does have some benefits though, especially since it gives you a chance to use each character class thoroughly and understand how they work. When you drop into For Honor’s multiplayer modes you’re simply shown the different classes on offer along with a brief description of their strengths. I know when I’ve played multiplayer games before that I’ve found this a little intimidating, especially when facing communities of players that have sunk the hours into the game that I’m simply unable to. Being able to use each of these classes beforehand and at my own pace was not only beneficial in the sense that I wasn’t out of my depth as soon as I jumped into the online modes, but it also helped engross me in the experience a lot quicker too. No-one likes trying out the multiplayer modes in a game just to die over and over again; For Honor’s campaign eliminates this horrible learning curve and gives you a fighting chance against your foe from the get go. For all the nuisances the tutorial-focused campaign throws at you, it does a really good job of evening the battlefield in the long run.
There is a story to be told in For Honor’s campaign and whilst it has a lot of potential to provide an epic tale, it instead falters and lulls along with a cheesy script that barely culminates in any form of a satisfying ending. It’s a shame since there’s so much potential here with the game’s great ‘Call of Duty-esque’ set-pieces and action-packed cutscenes – some of the set-pieces actually offer things you won’t see in the multiplayer modes too, bringing an extra incentive to plough through the campaign. It’s just not enough though, with the story simply feeling unsatisfactory whilst the rinse and repeat formula of the gameplay outside of the aforementioned set-pieces never really hooks you in. There’s nothing abhorrently bad about For Honour’s campaign, but it just won’t impress you either.
Despite its flaws, I did find some satisfaction from playing the campaign on the harder difficulties. The finesse and skill required whilst sword fighting felt almost ‘Dark Souls-like’, which in my opinion can only be a good thing seeing as it’s one of my favourite video game franchises. I found myself actually WANTING to return to the campaign despite my lack of enthusiasm whilst playing through on the normal difficulty – it’s challenging but ultimately satisfying, providing a stern test that’ll make each ill-timed swipe of your blade incredibly consequential.
For Honor’s campaign clearly wasn’t the priority for the developers. It’s certainly far from bad, but it feels like it was included so that the game wouldn’t receive the same criticisms that fell upon other multiplayer focused titles such as ‘Star Wars Battlefront’ and Ubisoft’s own ‘Rainbow Six Siege’. Despite this, I’d recommend players plough through it if only to learn the ins and outs of the game – the campaign is certainly not the highlight of For Honor’s otherwise splendid package, but it offers enough to make it worth venturing through.
For Honor borrows gameplay dynamics from so many other titles, but it’s still able to boldly proclaim that it has its own undeniable unique identity. It manages to amalgamate all of the fighter-esque combat dynamics, MMO-style loot collecting, and FPS-like variety of online game modes into a package that ultimately works together perfectly. Utilising so many different gameplay dynamics in one package often leaves a game feeling a convoluted mess, but everything in For Honor has been fine-tuned to work together perfectly. Sword fighting has never felt so good with the incredible ‘Art of Battle’ system too – For Honor has really set a precedent for quality here.
If Ubisoft’s work on ‘Rainbow Six Siege’ is anything to go by we’ll have a decent stream of new content to look forward to in future updates, whilst they’ve also always committed to making minor improvements so I’m hoping some of the issues I had with the game will eventually be fixed. Don’t get me wrong, For Honor is far from perfect, but none of its flaws outweigh the things it gets right.
If you’re looking for a single player focused experience then I’d probably recommend steering clear as it’s one of the game’s weakest points, but if you want one of the most exciting and original multiplayer experiences I’ve come across in quite some time then For Honor is certainly for you.
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 14/02/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC